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What Is Going On With All The Doping In Wheelchair Curling?

Stop reading right now if you'd like to believe that curling, or the Paralympics, or frigging Paralympic Curling is the last bastion of drug-free sports in the world today. Nothing is pure anymore. Jim Armstrong, a member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and skip of Canada's 2010 Paralympic gold medal team, will be suspended for 18 months after failing a drug test in December.

Armstrong's drug of choice, and his excuse for taking it, warrant mention. He tested positive for tamoxifen, a prescription drug usually used to treat breast cancer, and that's exactly what Armstrong says the pills were for—but not his breast cancer, his dead wife's. Carleen Armstrong passed away in 2009, and Armstrong argued before the World Curling Federation that he had accidentally taken some of her old pills, which look similar to the aspirins he takes to prevent heart attacks.


It's plausible, but there's another very good reason an athlete would be taking tamoxifen. As an estrogen blocker, it's often used by PED users to counteract the wild hormone swings brought on by steroid use. An anti-"bitch tits" drug, if you will. Manny Ramirez was tied to tamoxifen use back in 2009, before testing positive for a separate fertility drug with similar effects.


There's every reason for a curler, even a wheelchair curler, to use performance enhancing drugs. While curling doesn't rely on brute strength, it does require stamina for the sweepers and muscle control for the thrower. The bigger and stronger the muscles, the easier it is to put the stone just so.


It's not as if wheelchair curling hasn't caught dopers before. At the 2010 Paralympic Games where Armstrong and Canada won gold, the bronze-winning Swedish team was without their vice skip for their final two matches. Glen Ikonen was suspended for two years after testing positive for the beta blocker metoprolol, which lowers heart rate and and such is a favorite of curlers, archers and shooters. Ikonen argued that he was taking the drug for his blood pressure, to no avail.


Not helping Armstrong's case is the fact that he's been in trouble before. Just a month after winning gold in Vancouver, he and his son were arrested while smuggling fake Viagra and Cialis pills across the border, purportedly to sell online and in clubs. Armstrong, a retired dentist, was fined $30,000.

"You are a trained medical professional," the judge told him. "You knew better."

That's the crux of this case too. Armstrong will be fighting his suspension claiming he didn't knowingly take tamoxifen, but "I didn't know" isn't a valid defense in WADA's (or any organization's) appeal process. But it's a big day for wheelchair curling on the world scene. Next time someone tries to tell you it's not a sport, you tell them that a reigning champion doped, and argued that he didn't know what he was putting in his body. It sounds just like any other sport, just like any other steroid excuse.

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